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This Blessed Plot

Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair

By Hugo Young
15-minute read
Audio available
This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair by Hugo Young

Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that Britain sees itself as distinct from the rest of Europe. For instance, they use the pound instead of the euro and do not take part in the EU free travel zone. But how did Britain’s relationship with Europe end up like this? That’s what This Blessed Plot (1998) is all about. It explains that, since WWII, Britain has had a conflicted relationship with the European project, filled with negotiations and exemptions. With the “Brexit” now on everyone’s mind, find out more about this complicated history and what it might be able to tell us about Britain’s future.

  • Anyone interested in the “Brexit” referendum
  • Political junkies
  • Students of modern European history

Hugo Young was a British author and acclaimed journalist whose work appeared regularly in The Sunday Times and The Guardian. His other books include One of Us, an award-winning biography of Margaret Thatcher. He died in 2003.

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This Blessed Plot

Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair

By Hugo Young
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair by Hugo Young
Synopsis

Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that Britain sees itself as distinct from the rest of Europe. For instance, they use the pound instead of the euro and do not take part in the EU free travel zone. But how did Britain’s relationship with Europe end up like this? That’s what This Blessed Plot (1998) is all about. It explains that, since WWII, Britain has had a conflicted relationship with the European project, filled with negotiations and exemptions. With the “Brexit” now on everyone’s mind, find out more about this complicated history and what it might be able to tell us about Britain’s future.

Key idea 1 of 9

Britain’s post-war relationship with continental Europe got off to a shaky start.

Britain was in a unique position at the end of WWII: They were the only European power that had successfully defended its land from Nazi invasion, and they used this position to help liberate the rest of the continent from fascist rule.

Winston Churchill, eager to prevent future catastrophes, saw the unification of Europe as a way to accomplish this.

The war, Churchill recognized, was caused in large part by the divided state of Europe. He hoped that the old rivalries between these nations could be extinguished if they were all united, both economically and politically.

In fact, he’d been dreaming of a unified Europe since 1930, when he published an article calling for a “United States of Europe.”

In 1946, Churchill carried that dream to Zürich, where he gave a major speech that highlighted his ideas to the rest of the continent.

The first step in his plan called for a Council of Europe, which wouldn’t interfere with national sovereignty but instead act as a forum to help kickstart the process of deepening ties between European nations.

French and German leaders were particularly receptive to this plan and it inspired them to continue working together.

Churchill, however, having lost the general election to the Labour Party in 1945, was unable to put his European plan to work in the Britain.

The Labour Party opposed the “European supranationalism” of Churchill’s plan, preferring a more international – rather than regional – approach to European policy-making. This broader approach included the creation of NATO and providing economic aid to Europe through the American-led Marshall Plan.

Over the next few years, Britain continued to oppose plans for further European integration. So, France and West Germany moved on without them and, in 1950, they formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

The ECSC acted as a common market that also included Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. By joining the ECSC, these nations gave up some sovereign powers to a supranational European authority, making the ECSC the first version of what would later become the modern European Union.

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